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Guitar duo Assad Brothers expands our music horizons

Sérgio and Odair Assad
The Calgary Herald

Assad Brothers masters of rich Brazilian sound 

By Kenneth DeLong

Although the guitar is today one of the most popular instruments for budding musicians, the number of concerts by professional guitarists in Calgary remains modest. This is a shame, not only because of general interest in the instrument, but particularly because of the wealth of music composed for the guitar that remains known largely to just guitarists.

This was particularly evident Sunday evening with the appearance of the highly regarded Assad Brothers from Brazil, whose program comprised music known only to guitar specialists.

Now in their 50th year as a duo, the brothers wear their years very lightly, their concert lively and engaged, the music fresh and highly polished. Aside from the virtuoso command of their instruments, offered as naturally as one might offer a cup of coffee, the highlight of the concert lays in the musical repertoire itself. As a total program, the concert constituted a primer for North Americans of the rich world of Brazilian guitar music.

The first half of the show featured what might be called the roots of modern Iberian music from the two great figures from Spain, Albeniz and Granados, both of whom were pianists (not guitarists). Their music is distinctive, not only for its folk-inflected melodies, but specifically for their evocation of the spirit of the guitar.

By long-standing practice this evocation has carried over into the world of guitar music itself with many pieces originally meant for the piano. In this case, it included Albeniz’s Cordoba and Granados’s Eight Poetic Waltzes. All this music is really salon music, and the genial spirit of the Spanish (Portuguese) salon was clearly the starting point for much of the music heard throughout the evening. It gave the concert an air of old-world charm and Latin informality.

If the salon was the dominant element, it was occasionally mixed with influences from American jazz, particularly in the more modern selections, and especially in the pieces by Piazzolla. While Piazzolla has become a household name in recent years, his music is not only redolent of the tango nuevo but of jazz. This was strikingly the case in the items from Piazzolla’s Suite Troileana, which contained some of the most musically sophisticated harmonies and musical structures of the program, a highlight of the evening for me.

The second half consisted of a brief chronological survey of modern Brazilian guitar music. None of the composers on the program would be familiar to the general classical concert- goer in North America, so it was fascinating to hear the unique fusion of folk, jazz, and popular elements that make up this music — a conception of music not really found in the north.

The power and attractiveness of “traditional” Brazilian music was hypnotic, especially in the brilliantly conceived duo textures in which it was presented — most of it the work of Sergio Assad. Much of the virtuoso playing came from Odair Assad, who is a powerful and compelling performer. However, most apparent was the unity of style, purpose, and performance interaction between the two. While there were two guitars, most the pieces sounded as if they were performed on one giant guitar with expanded possibilities.

The concert was a remarkable and rewarding experience. It was warmly received by the large audience and the charming encore completed an enjoyable evening.

The music, challenging conventional expectations, provided motivation to expand our musical horizons and to embrace the world of Latin-American music, especially the guitar music of our giant neighbour to the south — Brazil.